ANALYSIS: How Iranian regime sinks deeper into isolation

Al Arabiya

Following Iran’s announcement of missiles tests under the pretext of “launching satellites” into space, the regime in Tehran is facing a new wave of political isolation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement in response: “The Iranian Regime’s Ministry of Defense has publicly announced plans to launch three Space Launch Vehicles (SLV) in the coming months. Such actions would once again demonstrate Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231, which calls upon the Iranian regime not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons… The United States will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk. We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded in a tweet claiming, “Iran’s launch of space vehicles— & missile tests—are NOT in violation of Res 2231…”

Two months after the US launched new sanctions against the Iranian regime, Washington apparently intends to increase its political and economic pressures to compel Tehran into at least ending its adventurous policies.

Important details

Zarif’s remarks are nothing new, as the regime claims their missiles are for defensive purposes and do not bear the capability of delivering a nuclear payload. However, both the US and Europe are showing grave sensitivity in this regard and making contrast comments.

The missile ranges are key and upgrading these vehicles into delivering a nuclear warhead are an easy step. This subject becomes especially important when placed alongside threats made by senior Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officials saying Iranian missiles now reach Europe.

Why the tests?

It is common knowledge that the Iranian regime is facing a conglomerate of crises as we speak. One particular issue, being Iran’s restive society and continuing protests, is of the utmost importance for the ruling regime, having severe impacts on their entire apparatus, especially more members of their ranks and files throwing in the towel.

Tehran’s clerics are now in dire need of what they describe as “hope therapy.” One such measure is through ballistic missiles and satellite launching vehicles to elevate diminishing spirits.

A protestor chants slogans against the Iranian regime and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki following a deadly attack on a camp near Baghdad housing Iranian exiles. (AFP)

 

In regards to Iran’s nuclear program, the regime continues to claim this initiative is for peaceful purposes and/or medical isotopes, knowing a complete shutdown of their “civilian” nuclear program would be humiliating in the face of the “Great Satan.”

Inside Iran and abroad, it would be considered as the regime beginning to succumb to the 12-demands raised by Pompeo.

Not so easy

These adventurous measures, however, create certain issues in already tense relations between the Iranian regime and Europe.

While Tehran desperately continues effort to create a rift between the US and Europe, the Green Continent cannot overlook Tehran’s meddling in the Middle Eastsupport for terrorismballistic missile tests and human rights violations, to some extent. Making things even more complicated is the position long adopted by Tehran, saying a step back on any of these issues will be the beginning of the end on all far more important subjects.

One such sign is the impasse Iran’s regime faces in regards to Europe’s “special purpose vehicle”initiative aimed at providing a mechanism to bypass US sanctions.

This subject has become so provocative for the European Union – especially considering Washington’s start opposition – that members of Iran’s Majlis (parliament) are heard claiming Tehran is not counting on the SPV!.

Seeing the matter becoming utterly embarrassing, Zarif has made similar remarks saying there was no economic objective in signing into the 2015 nuclear deal. It appears Zarif has forgotten how the Iranian regime went on a trade-signing rampage following the nuclear signing, including with companies such as AirBus, Boeing, Total and so forth.

Mehdi Mohammadi, described as an “expert in nuclear and international policy issues,” provided an interesting response after Zarif’s remarks raised quite a few eyebrows across the board.

“If we assume that Mr. Zarif was honest in his remarks, and these words were not the result of pressures from public opinion after the nuclear deal failed to provide economic fruit… this question comes to mind that if there were no economic/sanctions-lifting objectives involved in the nuclear deal, then what objective was the nuclear deal seeking?… Why did we even negotiate in the first place?”

Final thoughts

It is an undeniable fact that Iran’s regime is facing growing isolation, as the international community is coming to understand the clerics’ mortal weakness in the face of mushrooming protests.

Having no solutions, the Iranian regime is kicking the can down the road. 2019, with protests showing no signs of cooling and Washington determined to increase economic and diplomatic pressures, is promising to be a devastating period for Tehran.

Pompeo provided a preview in a recent interview with Newsmax: “The sanctions on Iran have the ultimate goal which we are trying to achieve. Creating an outcome where the Iranian people could have better lives than they have today under this tyrannical regime.”

Why Washington’s willingness to listen to Iranians is nightmare for the regime

Al Arabiya

The speech delivered by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday evening at the Reagan Library in Los Angeles can be described as yet another nail in the Iranian regime’s coffin.

It is hard to recall the last time the leaders of a regime were compared to the “mafia,” as Pompeo did in his description of the clerics sitting on the throne in Tehran. It is only fair to say Pompeo has escalated his Iran ante suggestively after his May speech where he outlined the Trump administration’s new strategy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and summarized it in 12 conditions Tehran must adhere to.

With the rial plummeting further against the US dollar, water and electricity shortages rendering further public dissent, and a new round of truck drivers’ strike launching on Monday, Iran’s domestic calamites are dangerously coupling with its escalating foreign isolation.

A disaster is in the making for the regime.

‘Polished front men’

After decades of enjoying full-fledged appeasement from various administrations in the United States and the West in general, Iran’s regime is facing a White House like none other.

Officials in Iran described the Obama years as the “golden era.” Nowadays, the circumstances are in deep contrast to what Tehran desires and needs to continue its domestic crackdown and foreign adventures.

“Despite the regime’s clear record of discretion, America and other countries have spent years straining to identify a political moderate; it’s like an Iranian unicorn! The regime’s revolutionary goals and willingness to commit violent acts haven’t produced anyone to lead Iran that can be remotely called a moderate, or a statesman,” he said.

This was a severe blow to Iran apologists continuing to claim reform from within this regime is possible.

Pompeo resorted to the term of “merely polished front men for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry” when dismissing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

‘Mafia’

With protesters across the country continuing to voice their dissent regarding the ruling regime and complaining about severe economic hardships, Pompeo voiced strong words in saying Iran “is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government.”

“40 years of fruit from Iran’s Islamic Revolution has been bitter. 40 years of kleptocracy. 40 years of the people’s wealth squandered on terrorism. 40 years of Iranians jailed for expressing their rights,” he explained.

The “mafia” ruling Iran is also known for its horrific practice of supporting terrorism and sponsoring extremist groups to fuel sectarian strife across the Middle East and export crises across the globe, including Europe.

As we speak Iran is going the distance to have a Vienna-based “diplomat” – arrested recently in connection to a bomb plot targeting the Iranian opposition “Free Iran 2018” convention in Paris – returned to Vienna. Pompeo referred to this case in his speech and made an interesting conclusion about the regime.

Unexpected

In May, US President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear pact, supposedly aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Trump had always described it as the worst deal in the world and lived up to his campaign promise of tearing up the accord.

Ever since US sanctions have been returning and an armada of foreign companies, including the likes of Total, Siemens and Boeing, to name a few, are ending their business with the Iranian regime.

Seeing its lifeline of oil exports threatened, Rouhani and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a series of retaliatory threats in response to imminent US embargoes. What they received was unexpected, to say the least.

Placing this alongside Pompeo’s strong speech on the same day once again bring us to this conclusion that Iran’s regime understands only a firm language.

The Trump administration has been implementing such a viewpoint, especially through meaningful sanctions that promise to make Tehran think twice about how to trek forward.

Historic

The Trump administration says its Iran policy is not specifically “regime change.”

A look at Pompeo’s recent speech, the 12-conditions he placed before Tehran in May, and how the stakes are escalating following Trump’s response to the Iranian regime’s threats, it is safe to say the changes we are witnessing and the road ahead are of historic proportion.

“While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country, the United States … will support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people,” Pompeo said.

Obama turned his back on the Iranian people back in 2009 and the rendered results continue to plague us globally.

Trump is not making that mistake. The sheer fact that Washington has decided to listen to the Iranian people inside the country and abroad is a nightmare turning into reality for Tehran’s rulers.

Has Khamenei signaled dead-end for Iranian regime’s adventures?

The United States’ important policy shift against Iran’s growing ambitions, spelled out in a 12-article speech delivered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is leaving Tehran’s clerical rulers facing quite a difficult challenge.

Iran experts believe these changes are based on two domestic and international pillars, acknowledging the reality of Tehran’s regime as a main threat in regards to its nuclear program, ballistic missile drive, exporting terrorism and fundamentalism, and a domestic crackdown machine on full throttle.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei understands how such dangerous circumstances are rendering severe setbacks for his forces both inside the country and militia proxies abroad.

Reports indicate the Afghan “Liwa Fatemiyoun” militias, hired to fight in Syria, are deserting their units, and Tehran is apparently ordering Houthi militia units in Yemen to withdraw from the country’s western coastline and surrender their most strategic port in al-Hudaydah.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrives for a meeting of the foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, at the Europa building in Brussels on May 15, 2018. (AP)

 

Six conditions

In a desperate effort to counter this offensive, Khamenei has placed six conditions before the European Union to issue resolutions against the US in the United Nations Security Council, not raise the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile program and Middle East influence, guarantee trade through European banks, assure Iran’s ability to fully sell its oil, compensate pledges the EU has not lived up to (according to Khamenei) and take a stand against US sanctions.

As preposterous as Khamenei’s words sound, we need to understand that he has no choice but to resort to such remarks. And of course, the words of French President Emmanuel Macron sink deep in the minds of Tehran’s senior officials. French firms have to decide on continuing their activities in Iran and assessing the risks imposed by US sanctions, he said in recent remarks. The French President cannot ask companies such as Total to pull out of their business in the US, Macron said.

As many European companies continue to rush out of Iran, Stadler of Switzerland has been the latest to jump on the train, halting a $1.1 billion contract to provide and build 960 wagons for the Tehran-Karaj metro, citing the return of US sanctions as the reason.

Iran’s own political figures are losing hope. “How do we expect the Europeans to forgo their $700 billion exports to the US for the sake of $20 billion exports to Iran?” recently said Sadegh Zibakalam, a Tehran professor University with ties to the Iranian regime’s so-called reformist camp.

Although Khamenei has taken what seems to the naked eye a strong position by placing demands before Europe, he is also seeking new negotiations with the Green Continent. This proves that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visits to China and Russia, and a recent drive of Iran seeking eastern shift in policy, failed miserably.

From day one after Washington pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, the reality about the Iranian regime’s destructive policies became clear. Neither the European Union, Russia nor China are willing to provide any guarantees to Tehran. This explains why Khamenei, desperately seeking a lifeline, sees the only path forward as establishing a rift in the international community to somehow find breathing room for his regime.

Iranian and US banknotes are on display at a currency exchange shop in downtown Tehran. (AP)

Dark future

One must also recognize the severe setbacks Iran will be suffering from Washington’s drastic change in policy, in comparison to the Obama years. This has not only brought a complete end to all the dreams of those advocating appeasement vis-à-vis Iran, but also the dark future awaiting Tehran if it chooses to continue its nuclear program, ballistic missile ambitions, regional influence and domestic crackdown.

The Iranian regime is coming to learn the days of mass arrests, torture in prisons and executions without paying the price are coming to the end. Tehran is feeling the heat across the region, understanding its missile launches, exporting terrorism and meddling in neighboring countries come with a major price tag.

All of the Revolutionary Guards’ vastly expanded bases throughout the region, parallel to networks of terrorism in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, alongside the nuclear program and not providing the promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections of its civil and military sites, are now targets of a variety of punitive measures by the US and its allies.

All this Iranian belligerence received a major $150 billion as a result of a highly flawed nuclear deal. Money that could have provided for the over 50 million Iranians living in poverty. Ironically, it is the Iranian regime’s own semi-official outlets that are providing such drastic statistics.

The above have resulted in a growing volume of dissent inside Iran, as analysts now consider this country a powder keg ready to explode at any moment. What makes the status quo even more dangerous for the Iranian regime is the fact that the Iranian people’s thirst for regime change is symbolized in their support for the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

While there may be a long dispute about the issue of regime change in Iran, the current circumstances are quite telling for the Iranian regime itself. “[National Security Advisor John] Bolton makes the same remarks today as he did in a PMOI/MEK event,” according to an editorial in the semi-official Mardom Salari daily.

According to former Iranian parliament deputy chairman Mohammad Reza Bahonar, “The US administration receive their analysis from the PMOI/MEK… the strategy of behavior change is no different from regime change.”

Understanding the US policy on Iran in light of Pompeo speech

Dedicating his first foreign policy speech to the grave subject of Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined the Trump administration’s new strategy vis-à-vis Iran on Monday, coming shortly after President Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Obama-era nuclear deal.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Secretary Pompeo vividly explained how the US administrations is standing alongside the Iranian people and their aspirations for freedom and democracy, especially the ongoing protests across the country.

The new strategy encompasses “a new security architecture” extending beyond Tehran’s nuclear program to also include its missile technology, support for terrorism and actions in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, amongst other countries.

A long slate of conditions were set forth by America’s top diplomat, demanding the Iranian regime to fall in line regarding concerns shared by the international community:

– The regime must come clean of all previous nuclear activities and disclose full account of the military dimensions of its nuclear program. It must also abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions in perpetuity.

– The regime must stop uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. It must also close its heavy water reactor at Arak.

– The Iranian regime must provide the IAEA full access to all its sites throughout the country.

– Tehran must stop its ballistic missile development and the launching of ballistic missiles.

– The release of all foreign citizens held hostage by the regime.

– The Iranian regime must end its support for terrorist groups in the Middle East.

– Respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and the disbanding of its proxy militia in the country.

– End of support for the Houthi militias.

– The regime must withdraw all forces under its command from Syria.

– End of support for Taliban and other terrorists in the region. The regime must also cease providing shelter to the leaders of al-Qaeda.

– The regime must end the IRGC Quds forces support for terrorism across the globe.

– The regime must end its threatening behavior against its neighbors.

Mike Pompeo and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during a press conference in Riyadh on April 29, 2018. (AP)

 

As Pompeo explained himself, this list is actually quite longer and the Iranian regime has only itself to blame. The way measures are forecasting, Tehran will never again enjoy a carte blanche to terrorize the Middle East.

Pompeo’s comments come as the as Iran is scrambling diplomats across the globe after Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal, in an effort to somehow preserve what they can of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), how the deal is formally known.

All the while, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has described the JCPOA as a “dying patient,” adding there is no guarantee if Europe can actually stand in the face of US sanctions.

Zarif has specifically added European support isn’t enough to safeguard the Iran nuclear deal. This notion was given a very strong shock as Pompeo said in his speech, “We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime.”

As actions begin to bite and an increasing number of foreign companies are abandoning their endeavors inside Iran, Tehran is comprehending how this is just the beginning of a very strong sanctions tsunami, described as Pompeo of eventually becoming the strongest sanctions in history.

The sting of sanctions will be painful if the regime doesn’t change its course, Pompeo added. With an already ailing economy and its currency, the rial, nosediving, the Iranian regime will be in an uphill battle to prevent its economy from a highly possible episode of complete collapse.

Arguably the strongest aspect of Pompeo’s speech came in his emphasis on Washington’s stance alongside the Iranian people, underscoring how the US administration intends to advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people.

America’s top diplomat referred how the protests of the past show the Iranian people are deeply frustrated with the regime. Workers and others across the society aren’t getting paid. Strikes and protest rallies are a daily scene. Unemployment is skyrocketing, with the youth being at least 25 percent.

At a short Q&A after his speech, Secretary Pompeo was asked to deliver a possible timeline on how Washington intends to fulfill these measures against the Iranian regime.

“At the end of the day the Iranian people will decide the timeline,” Pompeo said interestingly. As far as Tehran is concerned, reactions to Pompeo’s speech are very telling.

The Youth Journalists Club, known for its affiliation to the faction close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, described Pompeo’s remarks as “baseless.”

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, however, associated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, went as far as using this title for its post-Pompeo speech take:

“The US Secretary of State and his regime change speech.”

Unpacking Trump’s Iran Policy Transition

We have surpassed a roller coaster month of intense developments over the Iran nuclear deal. Discussions in Washington, and talks between Europe and the United States catapulted us all into a simple conclusion:

A major global policy change was in the making. U.S. President Donald J. Trump followed suit and delivered his landmark speech last Friday.

It was the first time in over 30 years that a U.S. president completely devoted a speech to announcing his policy in regards to Iran. Trump delivered America’s new comprehensive strategy vis-à-vis Iran, following months of anticipation and talks.

The issue at hand is not a discussion about personal differences between George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Donald Trump. Policies have reached a dead end and long term interests have left America no choice but to adopt new policies.

What makes this transition even more important is the fact that an intense war on both sides of the Atlantic has been ongoing over this policy transition. This is not limited to the pro-Iran lobby camp. Major interests are at risk here, covering issues far more important than Washington’s Iran policy.

In this 19-minute speech never did Trump deliver a neutral stance regarding Iran. The entire text was focused on placing his crosshairs on the Iranian regime. He began with the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran, continuing with the bombings in Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Iraq against America and its allies.

The objective was not to deliver new tactics or mere mechanisms on how America will approach Iran. The very foundations of U.S. policy on Iran has undergone major alterations.

One very interesting fact was how Trump focused on using the terms the “Iranian regime” and/or the “Iranian dictatorship”. Even if he preferred not to use the phrase of “Islamic Republic,” Trump had the option of resorting to “Iran.” Yet his decision to rely on the “Iranian regime” can be considered a non-recognition of this regime in its entirety.

President Trump using the terms “dictatorship” and “regime” indicates the ultimate objective of US policy is regime change in Iran, according to Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, as cited by various state websites in Iran.

In the first minute of his speech the U.S. president described Iran as an aggressive, radical and fanatic regime, and he refused to use the term “government.”

Trump’s speech focused on two subjects: the Iran nuclear deal and this regime’s regional belligerence and meddling through the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Prior to his remarks, Trump was under fierce pressure from Europe to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear accord, technically known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). America’s European allies even took one step back in asking Trump that in the case of decertifying the JCPOA, at least call on Congress not to re-impose pre-JCPOA sanctions on Iran.

Trump, however, stood against all pressures and his specific orders sent a message to the U.S. Congress and Europe: either fix the JCPOA or else the entire pact will come to an end.

The Europeans, seeking to maintain the JCPOA intact at all costs, found themselves before a fork in the road. The price of safeguarding the JCPOA is to place pressure on Tehran to resolve the existing loopholes.

This will be completely against Tehran’s interests, targeting the “sunset” clauses, Iran’s ballistic missile program and access to military sites for rigorous inspections.

“The notion that [Iran’s] entry into the JCPOA would curtail Iranian adventurism, the terror threat, or their malignant behavior has proven to be fundamentally false,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a recent session held by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Another very important aspect of Trump’s speech is recognizing Tehran as a threat, and in other words, America’s enemy number one. This, again, marks a strategic shift and not a mere tactical alteration.

“Over the last decade and a half, United States policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy,” a White House press release read prior to Trump’s speech.

This is the epicenter of America’s strategic shift regarding Iran and the Middle East. Following the 9/11 attacks, the flawed U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 played into Iran’s hands. These developments provided the necessary grounds for Tehran to spread its influence in the shadows of Sunni extremists and fundamentalists.

To add insult to injury, the Obama years gave birth to a policy hinging on recognizing a role for Tehran in regional developments. This period witnessed America distancing from its Sunni allies.

“The Trump Administration will not repeat these mistakes,” the press release adds. Once again the Iranian regime has become the main enemy in the region, as we have witnessed in the developments of the past few months following the historic Riyadh conference back in April.

The IRGC also became another major target of Trump’s harsh and unprecedented remarks targeting the Iranian regime’s top authority.

“The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia… I am authorizing the Treasury Department to further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates,” he said.

The U.S. Treasury Department followed suit and blacklisted the IRGC as a terrorist entity.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei responded Wednesday to Trump’s remarks by merely saying Tehran would not walk out of the JCPOA, indicating his regime’s desperate dependence to the pact’s reliefs.

This makes it even more interesting how Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel recently wrote, “Iran has [according to German security sources] clearly not given up its long-term goal to become an nuclear power that can mount nuclear weapons on rockets.”

Equally important is how Trump in his remarks specifically separated the Iranian people from the ruling regime, and made his intention crystal clear.

“Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to its extremist rule… In this effort, we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people,” he specified.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in an interview with CNN on Sunday raised the stakes further for Tehran.

“… the hope that one day the Iranian people will retake the government of Iran,” he said.

Of course, we can argue that Trump’s speech fell short of shedding important light on Iran’s flagrant human rights violations and the Iranian people’s demand for change.

While this is worthy of a lengthy debate, what is important now is that a major revolution in U.S. policy in the face of the Iranian regime spells disaster for Tehran’s rulers, and opportunity for the Iranian people.